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Sail Date: May 2009
We took the maiden voyage of the Avalon Affinity on one of their new cruises for the year, Windmills, Vineyards and Paris.   It was fantastic.  I was a little hesitant after reading reports about other companies and their maiden ... Read More
We took the maiden voyage of the Avalon Affinity on one of their new cruises for the year, Windmills, Vineyards and Paris.   It was fantastic.  I was a little hesitant after reading reports about other companies and their maiden voyages, but I am here to say that the launch of the Affinity and the tour were fantastic.   The Affinity is the newest ship in the fleet, holding 138 passengers. The Affinity officially launched in a formal ceremony on Saturday, May 9th. Updated design:1.  From the entry doors, there is a reception desk and two computers for internet access. 2.  Towards the front of the ship there is a lounge which is outfitted with comfortable chairs, sofas, and sturdy tables. 3.  A short flight of steps up from the reception desk are the Royal Deck and Suite rooms. 4.  At the end of the hallway from these rooms is a beauty shop and a small lounge where the coffee, tea, etc. are served 24 hours a day. This is also the location of the Early Riser and Late Riser breakfasts. 5.  A short flight of stairs down from the reception area are the Sapphire Deck rooms. 6.  A short flight of stairs down from the Sapphire rooms is the Dining Room. The buffet area is much better 'presented'. Two tables are set up for 8 people while the others are for 4 or 6 people. 7.  A short flight of stairs down from the dining room are the Indigo Deck rooms along with a fitness center. The center has two bicycle-type machines along with a treadmill. 8.  Top deck has a hot tub for 6. There are two areas that are covered by a canopy for those sunny days. There are more chairs, tables, and lounges than the Artistry had last year. 9.  Staterooms are similar to the other ships. I found the bathrooms to be better thought out than on Artistry. The bathroom has more storage in the vanity area than on the Artistry.  10.  All other room storage remains the same. I actually had a lot of room left over. 11. Elevator is located in the corner of each floor.The ship and its furnishings are very attractive. The ship is maintained well during the trip. The floors are spotless. The dining room has good soundproofing.When arriving back from touring, the staff meets you with a cold drink and a hand towel.The maiden voyage had a few 'glitches' but nothing that caused anyone to be inconvenienced. 1.  The elevator was not working for several days. The engineers worked on it to fix it as fast as possible. 2.  The ship was scheduled to go through a large lock in Rotterdam. However, the lock wasn't working and what was left was a smaller lock. After several hours, the captain and the lock master agreed to give it a try using the smaller lock. The lock doors closed with only inches to spare. It was a great job by all the crew to recover from that. 3.  The ship got 'caught' on a sandbar leaving Rudesheim. The captain was able to get the ship off the sandbar without any damage. However, this delay caused the scheduled events for the day to be delayed. 4.  Due to delays at some locks, the tour busses picked up the group or delivered the group to a location other than where we were scheduled to depart or arrive. It gave us a chance to see other towns that we might have not seen otherwise.These delays were handled very professionally by our wonderful cruise director, Isabel Heimann.   Our tour started in Amsterdam, where we met at a hotel and had an opportunity to meet some of our fellow travelers and to sign up for an optional tour to Zaanses Schans, which we took.  After that tour, we were taken directly to the ship where our luggage was already in our stateroom.  We freshened up, quickly unpacked, put our empty suitcases under the bed, and headed upstairs to the lounge.  The stateroom is has so much storage that we didn't use it all, which is unusual for me.   Each day we stopped at a different port.  Some cities offered optional tours.  We enjoyed seeing different parts of the Netherlands, along with Belgium, Germany, Luxemburg, and France.    Our ports of call were:  Amsterdam, Netherlands; Gouda-Dordrecht, Netherlands; Antwerp, Belgium; Maastricht, Netherlands; Nijmegen, Netherlands; Arnhem, Germany; Cologne, Germany; Koblenz-Rhine Gorge-Rudesheim, Germany; Cochem, Germany; Bernkastel, Germany; Trier, Germany; Remich, Luxembourg; and Paris. France.   Optional tours included:  Rijksmuseum; Zaanses Schans; Voldendam; Brussels; Aachen - Aux Le Bains; Bonn; Excursion to a German Dinner; Battle of the Bulge - on the footsteps of General Patton; Excursion to Luxembourg; An evening at the Artists Quarters of Montmartre; Mona Lisa's Smile at the Louvre; The Palace of Versailles; Moulin Rouge Dinner & The Greatest French Cabaret.   The city tours were good for the most part.  We were given headsets to use with our local guides, which worked out well.  Unfortunately, we didn't use them in Gouda and only those in the front could hear.    The optional tours that we took were great.  We took more of them than we had originally planned, but they were well worth the money.    The food was very good.  The breakfast buffet consisted of fruit, cheese, bread, eggs (hard cooked, scrambled, and an omelet station), various meats, hot cereal, cold cereal, yogurt for example.   At lunch there were two soups each day.  A change from last year is that there were two menu offerings each day in addition to the buffets.  The buffet had two meats and one pasta vegetarian offering, along with a salad bar, cheese bar, and wonderful desserts.   Dinner had two standing menu items which were chicken or salmon.  The meal consisted of appetizer, soup, salad, main course, and dessert.  Each night there was plentiful local wine to go with the meal.  I didn't have anything that I wasn't pleased with.   Evening entertainment consisted of a talk on diamonds, a trio playing classical music, the crew show and a play that Isabel put together with various members of the audience.  What a lot of fun.   We took the bullet train into Paris.  It was neat to see how fast the countryside passed by us.  In Paris, we were taken directly to the hotel where a special desk has been set up to give us our room keys.  The luggage had been sent by truck from the ship so it was delivered to our rooms shortly after we checked in.  The hotel, Le Meridien Montparnasse, was very nice and located near the southern train station and the metro.     We took two of the optional trips, the Artists Quarters of Montmartre, and Versailles.  Trips to the Louvre and Moulin Rouge were also included.   We stayed for an extra day and took the metro to tour Notre Dame, Arch de Triumph, and the Eifel Tower.    The tour was wonderful and we are already planning our next river cruise.         Read Less
Sail Date: May 2009
My wife and I took the European Jewels cruise May 9th 2009 aboard the River Empress. I will say that the entire experience, from the time we boarded the ship in Budapest and were checked in, to the day we disembarked in Amsterdam, was far ... Read More
My wife and I took the European Jewels cruise May 9th 2009 aboard the River Empress. I will say that the entire experience, from the time we boarded the ship in Budapest and were checked in, to the day we disembarked in Amsterdam, was far beyond our expectations. The food was remarkable and the wait staff was exceptional. I have eaten in five star restaurants that didn't do as good a job as the restaurant staff on the River Empress. Almost without exception, the shore excursions and local guides were easy to navigate and understand. The ports selected were a wonderful cross section of the area and represented big cities to small villages and everything in between. The Cruise Director became the "Go To" person for questions large and small and handled each one with humor and grace that had my wife and me shaking our heads in wonderment. Bravo to Bart. At the end of a long day of sightseeing ancient towns and villages, eating great food and drinking wonderful wines and beers, if was a pleasure to retreat to our cabin and climb into the best "Hotel Bedding" we have ever had the pleasure of enjoying. I would recommend this cruise and Uniworld to anyone who would like to experience Europe in comfort and style. Read Less
3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: April 2009
  Our AMA Waterways cruise began in Minneapolis/St. Paul on Saturday April 18, 2009, at 7:30 PM on Northwest Airlines. The flight was non stop . We each had a window seat because the plane was full and could not get seats together. ... Read More
  Our AMA Waterways cruise began in Minneapolis/St. Paul on Saturday April 18, 2009, at 7:30 PM on Northwest Airlines. The flight was non stop . We each had a window seat because the plane was full and could not get seats together. When we got to Amsterdam at 10:30 AM the next day, we cleared customs and then looked for the AMA Waterways representative. Because we purchased the air separate from the cruise line, it was less cost to take a taxi then purchase the transfers from the cruise line.  The agent, Paul, helped Bob get a taxi and some Euros. The taxi ride was 52.00 Euros. He was pleasant and ready to help. This was our first experience with AMA Waterways and a nice one. The taxi ride was about 30 minutes. Guests who purchased air with AMA Waterways had transfers included.   When we got to the port, there were about 6-8 river cruise ships at the port. To get to our ship, we had to go into the lobby of the Amadeus Princess, up the stairs to the sun deck and then across to the Amarelle sun deck and then down the steps to the reception desk. The ships were connected to each other in many places we visited. We went to the sun deck to wait because the cabins were not ready. I found our cabin and the door was open and went into it a couple of times to take some pictures. We waited on the sun deck and also in the small lounge near our cabin. There are 4 decks on the ship.   The ship has two lounges, a small one aft and the Grand Lounge on the Violin Deck. This lounge had plenty of soft chairs for seating, to read, relax or have a conversation with new and old friends, a dance floor, a piano, some round tables at the back of the lounge and where we had the wonderful entertainment. This was a place to sit and have a nice view as we sailed and went through the locks. The lounge also has coffee (espresso, cappuccino, regular), cocoa, tea and ice water available at all times. There was always something to eat like a light lunch, cookies, desserts or a light breakfast. The aft lounge was smaller and had a computer, games to use (cabinets not locked), some tables and chairs; it is a nice place for a group to meet. There was a very small exercise room that had weights, a treadmill and a stationary bike. There was small beauty shop and also a sauna (I did not see that) which was at the back of the ship. The ship has a library and a chair to use on the Violin deck. There was selection of books including a world atlas and books on Europe; I left a paperback I had finished. The cruise director had his desk here also. The gift shop was small but had a nice selection of gifts and postcards; it was near the reception desk. Boarding passes are used for passengers getting off and on the ship. They are small laminated cards (1/2" by 2") that have your cabin number; passengers are to take them when they leave and return them when they return so the ship knows when you have returned from shore. There is a bar in the main lounge and a drink special of the day. Peter was our cruise director. He was really good about his job and took the time to answer questions from anyone, anytime. He was on all the excursions and was quite knowledgeable about the area. He was pleasant and always helpful. The dining room was on the Cello Deck has plenty of room for the one sitting for dinner and your choice of where to sit. Breakfast and lunch were buffet but you could also order optional items such as Eggs Benedict and a hamburger off the menu. The variety of food could please everyone: eggs, cereal, sweet rolls, croissants, cheeses, cold cuts and more were always available. Lunch has a variety of hot and cold and also buffet. There was a light lunch of soup, sandwiches and desserts in the main lounge daily. We ate there 3 out of the 7 days. The dinner also had a variety of choices, usually 3 entrees. The meat was always tender and flavorful; some of the best of any cruise line I have sailed. I never heard one complaint about the food. The food was fresh and hot. The maitre d always offered more servings of vegetables during the dinner by going table to table. Wine, beer and soft drinks were available for dinner for no extra charge. The wine was from a local area in most cases. I personally liked the red wine ( I normally drink white) because it was not a heavy red wine; some guests from California thought the red wine was not "bold " enough. Personal opinions. There were quite a few birthdays, including mine. My husband asked about something for me and they said it was already done; the ship must have checked the birth dates for the passengers and celebrated the birthdays automatically; this was another quality feature of AMA Waterways. They brought a nice cake. It was Turkey Independence Day while we were on the ship and they brought a large cake for the group of Turkish guests on board the ship to celebrate.   In Germany, the Southern part of Germany are mainly Catholic, the Northern area Lutheran and the middle section of Germany is a mixture of religions.   The words "berg" and "burg" in names have two different meanings. Berg means a hill and burg is fortress. The Piano Deck is the lowest deck of the Amacello and has 2 windows instead of the French balcony that are almost level with the water; The elevator does not go this far and so guests who stay there, have to walk down steps. The crew also lives in this area. There is a window sill on the windows and a guest bought some flowers and put them in their cabin; her husband always buys her flowers for their Sabbath.   The ship has an audio headset system which allowed us to hear the guide using ear pieces without having to be next to the guide. We were given ear pieces the beginning of our cruise for us to use and keep, the receptive boxes we had were color coded and this was the same color as our guide used for the frequency so each group would hear their own guide; the color code was also the bus and guide we would use of that specific tour.  The system can work a distance of 1 mile, so we were told not to go too far from the guide. I have never had this on a tour and it was so easy to take in the sights, take a photo and listen at the same time.   Our first port was Amsterdam; the ship did not depart until the second day. Our city bus tour and a canal cruise were included excursions in the cruise fare as are all excursions on the cruise portion of the trip. This is the way to see Amsterdam, the Venice of the North. The canal boats are covered and also has a restroom on board. The first night we were entertained by fun Dutch Folklore dancers in the main lounge. There was the Captain's welcome cocktail party and a Gala Welcome Dinner. On Day 2 we left at 12:15 PM to sail along the Rhine River. Day 2 also had a safety drill on the sun deck. The entertainment on the second day was La Stada, a group that had 2 violinists and a guitar player. Their music was fitting for this river cruise and offered us some wonderful entertainment. Day 3 we were in Dusseldorf, the capital of Germany, and the excursion was a panorama bus tour of Dusseldorf of about an hour; we then had free time of about 45 minutes to shop, sit or walk back to the ship which was docked about 1 kilometer ( 0.6 miles). We departed for Cologne at 11:15 AM; we had a bus tour of Cologne as soon as we arrived and then some free time; this is where I purchased some 4711 original Eau de Cologne and the Dom Liqueur.  At 7:00 PM we departed for Frankfurt.   Day 4 we arrived in Frankfurt. Peter gave us a briefing on the upcoming excursion. At 11:30 AM, "Fruhschoppen" was served in the main lounge which was beer and sausage (no charge); I was told this must be served before noon. A Bavarian lunch was served in the dining room for lunch. We arrived at 2:30 PM and left for a walking tour of Frankfurt and the Cathedral. We walked back to the ship. Most of these tours are not handicapped accessible. This evening we had a trio called the Pitchfork who sang for us. They began with the song "Down by the Riverside" and had the audience hooked. We left this port at 3:00 AM the next day to sail to Mainz.Day 5 we arrived in Mainz at 7:15 AM and had the choice of 2 excursions, Mainz or Heidelberg; we chose Mainz as I wanted to see the Gutenberg Museum where the first printed copy of the Bible was printed. The museum has old books which were interesting and an original copy of the Bible. No pictures allowed except for the area where the printed a page for us on an old press. This level has printers all types and you were allowed to use the camera here. Mainz had a small area that did not have any car traffic; this was done about 20 years ago. There were bakeries, a church, coffee shops. 55% of the people in Mainz are Catholic, 35 % other religions.  In Mainz, the ship was docked about 1/4  mile from the city; this was a walking tour of about 45-60 minutes. The tours were in 3 categories; one was  gentle for slower walkers, again with the different color codes.   The passengers who chose the Heildeberg tour had a bus ride of about one hour and 15 minutes. The ones who went said it was a wonderful tour to the old city. We sailed to Koblenz where we overnight. Peter took about 75 people on a night walk in Koblenz. Day 6 we arrive in the fairy tale village of Cochem on the Mosel River (Mozelle is French and English spelling); one of the most scenic wine growing villages in the Mosel Valley. This is where we get to see the Reichsburg Castle. The minibuses drove us to the castle almost all the way. Because of construction, we had to walk up the rest of the hill to the castle. The walk down was not as bad as I thought it would be. What a beautiful view of the area. Lots of steps in the castle also. We saw several rooms of the castle. The trophy room had a door key for guests of the castle that had a little too much wine.; it was a V shape and the key could be slid down the opening and open the door. There was lots of waking on this stop and lots of steps. We had to dock across the river and then walk about 2 blocks, up stairs and across the bridge and down the stairs. There again, they had 3 groups for walking. People who wanted to take photos as well as slower walkers chose these groups. Bob and I shared a strawberry pie (good!!) at a cafe and I had a glass of local wine and Bob his coffee at a cafe before walking back to the ship.   Day 7 had us in Berkastel-Kues; a favorite of many passengers as well as for me. This was a village of half-timbered houses and lots of side streets as well as the medieval market square. This village is friendly, clean and really takes you back into time.  The square is surrounded by many well preserved half-timbered houses as well as the Renaissance city hall built in 1608. Especially well-known is the very small and narrow so-called "Spitzhäuschen" (the "Pointed House") which dates back to 1416. At the center of the market square lies the fountain of St. Michael (St. Michaelsbrunnen). Day 7 also took us to Trier, the oldest city in Germany. We again did a bus and city walking tour and using the Vox system so we could hear the guide. The bus took us to the top of the hill top to a city view and photo stop, and what a view it was. After the bus tour, we parked and did a walking tour of the town area. It was Saturday and there were lots of families shopping,eating and visiting the market square. The market had lots of fresh fruits and vegetables; they are known for white asparagus and they looked like nice stalks. Trier was founded in 16 BC under Augustus and today has the same population during the Roman Era, approximately 100,000 residents. We saw the Roman Baths, Roman Amphitheater and Porta Nigra Gate. The Porta Nigra Gate (Latin for black gate) dates from 180 BC and is the last remaining gate of the city; it is the symbol of the city. Trier is a city that would be nice for an overnight if you are flying in or out of Frankfurt which is 120 miles from Trier. We were there during the Holy Robe Days (April 24- May 3,2009) and were unable to go to The Cathedral of Trier, the oldest church of Germany, which was originally built by Constantine the Great, the first Christian Roman Emperor; The Cathedral of Trier houses great works of art and a holy relic that draws many pilgrims: the Holy Robe, the garment said to be worn by Jesus when he was crucified. We were docked at a small village called Piesport our last night and walked through the village to get to the ship which was waiting for us after the Trier bus tour; we again walked to the buses to go on the trip to Paris; The busses could not travel the narrow streets. Our cabin faced the Village Church and the cemetery. There was a walking path next to us and adults and children and biked along this area. It was quiet and peaceful.   This was a wonderful cruise. I have been on the Mississippi Queen but this is my first European river cruise. I have been on many cruises and have done most of the world but this is a wonderful way to travel to Europe and other parts of the world. ( AMA Waterways has many sailings.) I have seen many of the large cities of Europe, and this is a chance to see the smaller villages and countryside. The Rhine River was busy with cargo traffic; the rivers are their highways. The river was flowing quickly and had lots of locks. The people are friendly and most spoke English. We used the Euro for currency, even on the ship, throughout the trip. I am look forward to other river cruise sailings in the world. This has become so popular, there are more cruise lines and ships being built. The hotel in Paris was the Crowne Plaza Republique at Republique Square. A 19th-century Neo-Baroque style building with a striking facade than had been renovated and was a nice 4 star hotel. We were near the Metro station. The rooms were good sized, a double sized bed, a large bathtub with a high side that you had to climb into, amenities in the bathroom, a table in the room and our room was at the front of the hotel. We were able to see part of the Eiffel Tower from our large window. Breakfast buffet was included in the rate of the room and there was a nice variety of food and drinks for any nationality. We found quite a few places to eat within waking distance including KFC and McDonalds. The city tour the next day, included in the cruise package, was about 4 hours and took us all over the city including a visit to Notre Dame. Paris is large with many old structures and gardens. We bought a Metro day pass and this allowed us to use the train and bus, getting off at the Louvre (closed Tuesdays), the Eiffel Tower and Old Opera House.   Our trip ended with a Delta flight from Paris to Minneapolis/ St/ Paul on April 29, 2009; the plane was not full and so many people were able to lay on the seats and sleep; Delta served us a good dinner and also pizza before we landed. We got through customs, cleared and headed home.   This was a memorable trip for me and I look forward to my next river cruise.There was so much more I could have added but thought I had written enough so if anyone has questions, please email me at mncruise@aol.com. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: April 2009
We chose a river cruise for the convenience, low stress, and all inclusiveness, as well as the locations visited in eastern europe. We are married in our early 30's without kids and were definitely not the normal river cruise couple. ... Read More
We chose a river cruise for the convenience, low stress, and all inclusiveness, as well as the locations visited in eastern europe. We are married in our early 30's without kids and were definitely not the normal river cruise couple.  The average age of the cruise is about 60-65 years of age, with a few in their 40's, 50's, and 80's- at least they looked that age.  Don't let the age deter you if you are young as most of the people were very nice and we made friends w/ multiple couples.  There were a few groups of single friends, mom and son, etc., but predominantly married couples.      Our room was the lowest class and was very small, but adequate, and certainly no smaller than an inside stateroom on a larger cruise line. Our beds were separate, but you can squeeze into a single together if you wish.  You will need an adapter for hair appliances, chargers, etc, but my wife was incorrect in thinking we needed a converter, as we didn't. There was a hair drier in the room and an iron could be obtained from the front desk.  Movies are shown on one channel in your room on a daily basis- the same movie all day long as far as I could tell.  If you read the information booklet in your room, which we didn't until the last day, you will find the list of movies for the week.  Only one other channel is in english- CNN World, which I now prefer to normal CNN.  The shower was good quality and never short of hot water.  We had a window that ran just above water level and had a fair view, but certainly nothing picturesque- and it didn't open as the information book states. We peeked into a larger room, one level up from ours- D level I think- and it was MUCH nicer.  However it was $500 more pp and I don't think it is worth the additional cost even now w/ all taken into consideration. Budapest- if you have the chance definitely extend your stay here. It was one of our favorite locations and we wished we had more time. Cafe Girbaud was recommended to us and would recommend it to others.  Wished we had visited a bath house and had more time for museums.   All of the other stops were wonderful and you will have free time to explore on your own at just about every one of them. We weren't sure how much time we would have, but it seemed adequate everywhere.  At least enough time to decide that we loved just about every stop on the cruise.  You do not have much time after the Melk abby, but as quaint as you might think the town is, Regensburg and Passau were much better.  The only stop I could do without is Linz- would rather have had more time in other cities.  A tour in each city is included and were well done.  You have a receiver and ear piece to hear the tour guides on all walking tours.  They worked well and were very helpful.  Some tours were part bus w/ stops and walking portions, while others were walking only.  The tours were not too fast, too slow or overly churchy.  I thought they were well done w/ some people complaining about a few guides-  everyone is split into 3 or 5 groups depending on the stop, and not everyone had the same guide.  You can ask questions and always go back to see things again.  Remember to take some forints, or euros to tip- we forgot a few times and had to scramble to come up w/ 1-2 euros to tip w/.  Excursions- we only did the Kelheim Weltenburg Abbey tour.  We heard from others that other excursions were nice, although there were problems w/ the Vienna Palace tour. We enjoyed the Kelheim tour, but- 25 minute bus ride, 1 hour scenic boat ride w/ a large crowd of tourists, a 5 minute walk to the abbey, 1 hour at the abbey and beer garden, 10 minute walk to another bus, then a few scenic stops back to the boat.  Other than the beer at the abbey being fantastic the trip was mainly forgettable- the rain didn't help either. The only other option is to stay on the Viking ship the whole time.  If you like beer you'll love this excursion.  If you don't like beer your should at least enjoy the scenery.  Food- the dinners were all excellent w/ a variety of tastes- I never knew I would like Borscht!  Lunches were always good w/ buffet and items to order.  Breakfast was fair- burned bacon every day!!  Omelets were subpar.   A few key points: -Do not purchase the Silver Spirits all inclusive beverage package!!  Glasses of wine and beer run about 4-5 euros- or more if you wish a bottle of wine.  Corkage fee for wine brought on board is 7 euro.  Mixed drinks are a bit more- 5-7 euro.  Juices are included w/ breakfast and tea/water/coffee are always available.  We purchased the package and I drank like a fish, but was nowhere close to the total cost of the package- oh, and the sparkling wine, postcards, and hat aren't enough of an incentive. -Always go to the daily briefing and check the front desk for sign-ups.  The daily briefing covers a lot of information pertininent to the next day including signing up for various excursions.  One person was late getting on the boat the first night missed signing up for an excursion and then didn't get to go.  You will not need to sign up for any excursions until you are on the boat, but you need to sign up early rather than wait to make sure you get to go.  -Try the sausage and kraut in Regensburg.  I am not a fan of sausage or sauerkraut, but this was like no sausage or kraut I have had before.  It is/was one of the best things I have ever eaten and I consider myself a foodie.  - Realize there are breakfast and lunch menus if you do not wish to have the buffet items.  - Do not expect there to be food 24/7.  Portions are European style- fairly small.  We heard a few people complain, but I thought the portions were adequate- appetizer, soup, entree, dessert - and you can ask for additional portions including a cheese plate.  - if you have a choice between Prague extension or Budapest, i would choose Budapest.  We did Prague on our own and found it to be overrun w/ tourists, souvenir shops every 3rd shop, but a beautiful city w/ a lot of history.  Budapest was also a beautiful city w/ a lot of history, but fewer crowds and seemed more authentic.  Best to see Budapest before it turns into Prague.  Oh and Prague's pilsen beers were nothing compared to the many German beers I had- just personal preference.  - do some research in each of the cities to determine what you want to see during free time- Oberhaus castle in Passau, "Sissy" museum and Kaiser apartments in Vienna, Landtman Cafe in Vienna, Gerbaud Cafe in Budapest, etc.  You receive some maps and info on each stop, but it helps to know a bit more to maximize your time. - If you have the money to spend it is very helpful to eat lunch off the boat to maximize time at some locations. Especially in Vienna and Nuremburg where your are some distance from the boat and in Regensburg- so you can taste the magnificent sausage!   Read Less
4 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: April 2009
1) It's all inclusive - no nasty surprises. Luxury cabins, all meals, drinks, wine, transportation to and from private excursions/tours, equipment, EVERYTHING is included for one reasonable price.2) Our luxury suite just happened to ... Read More
1) It's all inclusive - no nasty surprises. Luxury cabins, all meals, drinks, wine, transportation to and from private excursions/tours, equipment, EVERYTHING is included for one reasonable price.2) Our luxury suite just happened to be located on the ship. Rather than us packing, unpacking and then repacking at a luxury resort every day - they move our resort for us! Talk about easy! You simply could not replicate this trip on dry land without spending a huge amount of money and spending most of your day traveling from one port to the next. And even then, finding restaurants and meals and equal accommodations, for all practical purposes, impossible. The canal barges are an excellent value for money deal.3) The entire crew was Johnny-on-the-spot eager (!) to help, answer questions, find answers and provide whatever our whims required. Want a major US newspaper delivered to your cabin door in the morning (even if the ship is miles from any major city)? Just ask ahead of time; out in the relaxed rural areas, the locals are very much less interested in stocking the LA Times daily. We asked for - and got - the papers of our choice. (It turns out the crew spent some time arranging delivery to a local shop, in the shop in the town we would b at the next morning. Then at first light a crew member would go out and retrieve the papers from the local shop. This feat is even more amazing as the local shops are not usually open at 5:30 AM. How the crew managed to pull of this trick day after day still amazes me.)The crew did not cease to amaze me in the care and feeding of the passengers. Can't eat grapefruit because of a medical concern? Let them know ahead of time, and if by magic, grapefruit disappears from the menu. The replacement, a large assortment of other fresh fruits, was available. The impressive part of this is that the chef very quietly took care of our diet needs in such a way as to be absolutely undetectable by any other passengers. Rather than pointing out a medical condition by serving one 'odd man out' meal, the entire menu was seamlessly adjusted so that everyone could fearlessly eat everything that came out of the kitchen. It's a small touch, but it means a lot.Our guide would meet us after breakfast and off we would go for another private tour (no line to wait in at all). Private wine tasting with the vintner himself? Check. Private tour of historical sites? Check. Time to explore small towns? Check. And all the while, our Guide was charming, funny and very informative.The entire (small) crew work hard and long to achieve, and retain, a very high level of service and comfort. They seemingly defy gravity in their efforts to meet passenger requests. These guys and gals earned their tips, and I gladly stuffed an envelope for their gratuity, for I was, and remain, grateful for all of their hard work. Read Less
Sail Date: April 2009
This was our second river cruise, the first being the Danube River with Amadeus or AMA as they are called now, three years ago. We loved them both. I know people often ask which cruise line is the best, but comparing Amadeus and Uniworld, ... Read More
This was our second river cruise, the first being the Danube River with Amadeus or AMA as they are called now, three years ago. We loved them both. I know people often ask which cruise line is the best, but comparing Amadeus and Uniworld, they are about the same quality. I read a lot of reviews for Amadeus and Uniworld before booking and I never read one bad review. Here is a list of the little extras we appreciated on our Uniworld cruise:Free wine with dinner we got pop or juice as we don't drink wineBottled water in cabinGlass containers of filtered water to use in cabin or fill plastic bottles for toursFiltered water faucet in common area, along with coffee, tea, hot chocolate and tangerinesDish of wrapped candy at the front deskChocolates on pillow at night but on Easter they put a small wicker basket full of Lindt chocolates and another night there was a small box of chocolate covered raisinsBicycles to use on shoreJuice and hot hand towels when we returned from shore excursions. I loved the peach juiceDVD movies played in roomQuietvox portable lightweight audio headset system for tour leader use on shore excursions. This meant that we did not miss a word of what the tour leader said. I could run around and take pictures and still hear the tour leader talking. I even got separated from the tour and couldn't see them, but I could hear the tour leader.A variety of German sausages, pretzels, beer, pop served on the top deck at 10:30 AM as we cruised by the castle region. A full description and stories of every castle was given by the tour director.Optional dinner served on the top deck a couple nights if you wanted.A private car from Lucerne (we bought the 3 day optional post-cruise tour) to Basal airport. There were 26 people leaving at 6:15 AM for the airport by bus as they had early flights. But we were the only two who had a noon flight and they rented a private car to take us to the airport, so we got to leave at 9:30 AM. They could have had us take the bus and we would have had a long wait at the airport, but they went to the extra expense of renting a private driver. Lights out in the dining room and all waiters came to sing happy birthday to my husband with a small cake and candle. The accompaniment was an accordion played by the man who was providing the special entertainment that evening. We had to turn our passports in for the first night and that is how they knew it was his birthday. We spent three days in Amsterdam pre-cruise and three in Lucerne post-cruise. We were on the River Ambassador which went in service in 1996 and refurbished in 2006. Our Amadeus ship was only one year old and I was thinking that the River Ambassador would seem old. But it did not seem old, in fact it seemed new. The decor was very classy with white and beige colors, the carpet looked new and the dining room was very elegant. All the cabins are the same size on the River Ambassador. Yes, they are small but very well laid out, lots of storage space and our suitcases and carry-ons fit under the bed. I'd say about the same size as an inside cabin on an ocean cruise ship. We never mind the size of the cabins as we are not in our cabins that much just getting ready for the day and changing clothes. A hint: I always travel with a couple over-the-door hangers and used two of them for our coats, and to hang the clothes we were wearing that day. They just help expand the closet space.The food, for the most part, was very good. I am a bit fussy about eating some things, so may not be the best person to ask. My husband, on the other hand, is very adventurous and he ate a lot of different things and enjoyed them all. Breakfast was almost the same each morning and I heard one person complain about that, but the food was good. There was a to-order omelette station, scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, pastries and fruit. Lunch was a buffet salad bar, soup, hot dishes, a pasta station a couple days & dessert. One day the chef gave a demo on how to make apple strudel and we had that for lunch dessert. Their ice cream was very good. Dinner was a set menu with a couple choices. I usually got the fish offering and it was very good. There was also a beef and chicken breast alternative offering every night if you didn't want what was offered. I had the chicken breast one night and it was delicious. The portions at dinner are small but I heard one person say that was a good thing as then they did not have that heavy, full feeling going to bed. I was full and satisfied because although the servings are small, we had four courses, so that was plenty. The only thing I would have liked to have changed is more vegetables at dinner. I am a veggie eater and there were either none or very few. We did put that on our survey sheet at the end of the cruise that we'd like more veggies at dinner.  We suggested a bowl of veggies for the table. I'm sure I could have asked for some veggies at dinner, and I do on ocean cruises.We stayed in the new Citizen M hotel at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. It is brand new and a destination in itself. Very modern, high tech and economical.  www.citizenm.com It is a 10 minute walk from the airport mostly under a covered walkway. We paid $100/night. The train station is in the airport, so it was convenient to take the train in to Amsterdam. There is shopping and restaurants and grocery stores in the airport terminal. Citizen M has just opened their second hotel in downtown Amsterdam, so if you haven't booked your hotel, check them out. There are good reviews on www.tripadviser.com. First day: We rode the train into Amsterdam and walked and walked from the Central Station to the Leidseplein area with dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe. Second day: We took the train to Haarlem, Netherlands, a charming city. Our purpose was to visit Corrie ten Boom's house. In WWII, Corrie, her sister and her father who were Christians, hid Jewish people in their upstairs home which was over their watch shop. They were reported to the German officers by a man they were helping, arrested and sent to concentration camps. The Germans never found the people hiding in a secret place behind a fake wall, but the ten Boom's were arrested for having too many ration cards, which had been obtained by an official person to help feed all the people in the house. Father and sister died in the camp, but Corrie lived to tell about her two years in the camp. She wrote a book, The Hiding Place and it was made into a movie. We got the DVD at our Library to watch before we left for the trip. The house and the operating watch shop is still there and an hour tour of the house is offered free including a small museum. www.corrietenboom.com. We got off the train on our way back at Central Station and walked over to Anne Frank House. The line was too long so we ate dinner and went back. The best time to go is when they open or about 7:00 pm. They stay open until 9:00 pm. This also was very touching and we got to tour the whole house. Third day: We rode a bus to Kukenhof Gardens the very famous tulip garden. It was so beautiful. We took almost 200 pictures and spent five hours there. They had a number of restaurants so we had lunch there. They are only open from March to May.Fourth day: We headed to the castle at Dam Square, but it was not open. There is also a church, but it also was not open. We had lunch and headed back to the hotel, gathered our luggage and went to the airport to connect with the Uniworld rep and transfer to the ship.   There are a lot of museums to visit and Beethoven's house is there, plus you can also take a canal ride (we had done the canal ride when we stopped in Amsterdam on an ocean cruise years before).We ate at The Pancake Bakery - Prinsengracht, 191, a short walk from the Anne Frank house. The food was wonderful. They had lunch, dinner and dessert pancakes. We shared the Indonesian Pancake for dinner and shared the Brazilian Pancake for dessert. I wish we would have had time to go back, it was that good.  We also ate at the De Bisenkorf (Bee Hive) department store. They had a buffet starting at noon. There were lots of choices and even made-to-order items. I think it was on the fifth floor. This store is very near Dam Square. Ports: Cologne: Wonderful cathedral and walking tour.  Very quaint city where my husband enjoyed browsing the sidewalk flea market and I really enjoyed the Lindt Chocolate Factory!Rudesheim: There is a funicular and those that went said it was nice. Tourist area with stores. We had about two or three hours on our own and then we were bused to a winery. It was called a castle, but the tour director said he'd call it a palace and I'd call it a chateau. It was gorgeous! We had a tour to a number of rooms and you could slip into other rooms on the way to take pictures, along with a talk about wine making. We were there about two hours. We don't drink wine so they gave us water instead. In the evening there was an optional dinner in Rudesheim but we did not go. Speyer: A really quaint, scenic town. We had a morning walking tour and then went back to the ship to depart for our optional tour to Heidelberg. We had lunch in Heidelberg, included in the tour, and a two hour walking tour. After lunch we had about two hours to explore Heidelberg. I was impressed with the castle. Although it was a ruin, it was still in pretty good shape and the city is trying to renovate it. Heidelberg is very scenic, especially with the hugh castle sitting on the hill overlooking the town. When we got back to the ship I wanted to go back into Speyer before dinner, but it had started raining which dampened our desire to go back. I think the Heidelberg tour was about 80 Eu per person.Strasbourg: Wow! A really big (comparatively) and scenic town! We loved it. The morning started out with an hour or so covered canal boat ride with commentary. It was raining and foggy, so we couldn't take pictures or have the top off the boat. After the boat ride we had a short walking tour and then we were on our own for the rest of the day. There was a bus shuttle back to the ship, so we explored Petite France for an hour or so and then took the shuttle back to the ship for lunch and after lunch we shuttled back to Strasbourg until about 4:30. Fortunately, after our canal boat ride, the rain stopped and the fog cleared up so we were able to get wonderful pictures. What was our favorite port? I just loved them all, but I think the favorite would be the day long bus trip in the Alsace region of France. We stopped in three charming villages but the bus went through many more and I just kept snapping pictures the whole way. We had lunch on our own in Riquewihr which was our second stop on the Alsace, France all-day bus tour. We had a couple hours for lunch and shopping after the walking tour. Be sure to try the macaroon cookies and caramel glazed almonds and peanuts. For lunch we had La Tarte Flambee which was like a pizza but with a much thinner crust and no tomato sauce but was tasty. The name of the restaurant where we had lunch in Riquewihr - d'Brendelstub - 48, Rue Du General De Gaulle - on the main tourist street.The optional tours we took:  At the Koblenz port we took the optional tour to Marksburg Castle which cost 90 Eu for two people and included a guided tour of the castle and free time in the city and also an apple tart and drink at a local historic restaurant. Our other optional tour was to Heidelberg at the port of Speyer. Lunch was included along with a guided tour of the city and castle and the bus transportation. The cost for two people was 138 Eu. If you purchased the three day extension in Lucerne, you will have a contracted tour guide in Lucerne; ours was named Marc. He took us on a two hour walking tour and then an hour boat ride on the lake. He suggested restaurants and we ate at two, Rossini and La Venice. Very good Italian food. Marc offered two optional tours for day two. One to Mt. Pilatus in the morning and a dinner at a Swiss restaurant with entertainment that evening. Those that went said the entertainment was audience participation with a drinking contest, yodeling contest, horn blowing contest, etc. They said the food was good and lots of fun. I can't remember the exact cost but think around 60 Eu per person and it needs to be paid in cash. I had located a map and walking tour on the Internet, so we did the walking tour and walked the city Tower Wall and went up into one of the towers. It was fun to just walk around especially across the wooden bridge into the older part of the city. We came across scenic squares, monuments and unique buildings. I love the way they do paintings on the outside of the buildings. Stores seemed to close around 6:30 and are not open on Sunday. Shopping is very expensive but a more moderate department store is H & M which I just discovered at a mall in Strongsville, Ohio.  I went in and asked if they were a European company and sure enough they were and new to the US.  I've seen H & M in a number of cities in Europe.On day two we boarded the boat, a ten minute walk from the hotel, at Pier 1, for Vitznau. Got off there and looked around the little town and then boarded the cog railway to the top of Mt. Rigi, had lunch in the hotel cafeteria, hiked around for about an hour, took tons of spectacular pictures, then took the cog to Rigi-Kaltbad where we got off and boarded the cable car down to the city of Weggis. It was a ten or fifteen minute scenic walk down to the pier where we got on the boat back to Lucerne. Wonderful scenic day. You can get one ticket for all the above for 100 Eu per person. Looking at some of the prices, it seemed we saved money over buying each ticket separately.On day three we took the train to Engleberg, Switzerland, an hour south of Lucerne. It was a very scenic ride with the rolling green meadows, the snow capped mountains and we even traveled through a forest. We found the tourist office and the two hikes we wanted to take were not available because of too much snow that hadn't melted yet. The Rep suggested we walk to a falls and it was very scenic through town, woods and all walking towards Mt. Titlus. The train was 30 something Eu per person.The hotel Monopol was across the street from the train station and very conveniently located. The train station had lots of stores grocery, clothing and cafes and stayed open until 9:00 PM.  Marc helped others who wanted to go to Bern and Interlaken for the day. We had no problem with the water levels. Steamboats (a cruisecritic member who lives in Germany) had advised us on the board before we left that the Rhine does not have as much problem with high water as does the Danube.It could be chilly on the top deck and I needed to wear lots of layers. When we cruised the castle area, the sun was shining but it looked a lot warmer than it was. We all bundled up because we would not have wanted to miss even one castle along the route. The River Ambassador had a covered sitting area which shielded us from the wind, but you could still see the scenery. Here is what I packed to use if necessary for layering. Short sleeved tops, two long-sleeved knit tops, a cotton short jacket and a corduroy short jacket (these were not outdoor jackets, but ones that you wear indoors) a thin windbreaker, a pull-over sweater and a thigh length spring coat. On the coldest days I had on the long-sleeved knit top, pull-over sweater, cotton jacket, windbreaker and then my spring jacket. I took those little knit gloves and also a knit scarf. Those departing from the boat left at different times depending on their flight schedule. Our bus to Lucerne left at 9:00 AM and there were still lots of people left on the ship. The luggage is put out in the morning and they have a scheduled time for each cabin depending on the time you are leaving. They didn't want all the luggage out at the same time so guests would not trip over it. You have to get out of your cabin by 8:30 and then you can wait in the lounge until you are called for your bus to the airport. River cruising is quite different than ocean cruising. No big ship, no high entertainment, no casino. But the trade-off is that you get to see towns that the ocean cruise ships can't get to. It's an easy way to tour, rather than renting a car and doing it on your own. This is stress-free and they take very good care of you and do everything they can to make your vacation wonderful.  We did have a couple nights of entertainment a family, mother, father, daughter mother sang (she had a beautiful opera voice, but also sang all other types of music) father on keyboard and daughter on sax. Another night was an accordion player. All other nights was a man on keyboard singing and playing dance music. They played a game with us one other night incorporating the crew. Some nights you are still docked after dinner and could walk into town if you wanted and one port had an optional dinner.  I think you are going to enjoy this as long as you don't expect it to be like an ocean cruise. We love both ocean and river cruising as each has lots to offer. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2008
River cruises are wonderful and Uniworld thinks of everything to make your trip smooth and relaxing on board. This was our second Uniworld cruise and we loved it. Christmas market cruise was fun and beautiful. Uniworld provides all the ... Read More
River cruises are wonderful and Uniworld thinks of everything to make your trip smooth and relaxing on board. This was our second Uniworld cruise and we loved it. Christmas market cruise was fun and beautiful. Uniworld provides all the tours and each person has their own headset so you can walk at your own pace. The tour guides all speak perfect English and are very knowledgeable about their town. Only two extra tours were offered one was opera in Vienna and was wonderful. The other a trip to diamond factory was not great. Food on this cruise was just alright. Where as the last cruise in Paris the food was so far above average, it was to die for! Uniworld adds some great touches like serving you a warm drink when you come back from a cold tour on land, wine with dinner as much as you can drink. Nice captains dinner with free drinks. This cruise had wonderful holiday entertainment and the ship was decorated really nice for Christmas. I love the fact that they are docked in town and stay in town many times until 1 or 2 am so you can come and go from the ship as you like. They have a warm relaxed atmosphere and very great customer service. One day my mom really wanted a small gift from a town we were not visiting, but we were docked in the town, my mom asked the hotel manager if their was anyway to get her friend something with the town name. While we were out on our all day tour the hotel manager went out and purchased the gift and left it on my mom's bed in her room! They always went out of their way to make our visit special. I highly recommend the Christmas cruise as a wonderful way to spend the holiday. The other cruise we took with them to Paris and Normandy was fantastic! They just go out of their way to make you enjoy it. When we went to the American cemetery in Normandy they gave us flowers and the name of a solider from our home town so we could place flowers on a grave. No cost to us, but a moving experience for all of us. I would recommend Uniworld to anyone who loves service, but does not need the wild life of the big box boats. Only 100 people on board and a very relaxed atmosphere. No shows, circus, shopping or ice shows, just the local towns and quiet relaxing time. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2008
Since this was our first river cruise after many ocean going cruises, we did quite a bit of research prior to making our decision. Some of the key elements that we were looking for were a company and ship with a good reputation, the ports ... Read More
Since this was our first river cruise after many ocean going cruises, we did quite a bit of research prior to making our decision. Some of the key elements that we were looking for were a company and ship with a good reputation, the ports (hitting a variety of Christmas Markets), the length (10 days or so), good - but not necessarily gourmet food, and finally a cruise early in the season so that we might have the best weather possible. We decided on Uniworld and the River Duchess. They have an impeccable record and the cruise itself met our criteria. It was 11 days long - 10 on the ship and 1 travelling. The cruise started in Budapest and ended in Regensburg with stops in a variety of locations, each with different Christmas Market offerings. The only glitch that we had was that our travel agency went out of business after we made final payment. Uniworld had already sent them our cruise packet and couldn't have been more accommodating when I notified them of the problem. They immediately overnighted us a completely new packet. Absolutely outstanding service from the Uniworld main office. We flew from the US to Munich for five days of "pre-shopping" and touring. We hit all the beer halls and hotspots and made day tours to Ludwig's Castles, Garmish, and a variety of other locations. I'm glad we went that early since we were wide awake with no jet lag problem when we boarded the River Duchess. We stayed in the King's Hotel First Class while in Munich. It was an excellent choice; good hotel, good staff, 5 minutes from the train station, and 10 minutes walking from Marienplatz. We took the EC63 train from Munich to Budapest the day before the ship sailed. We had booked our tickets on the German Railway website months before. About a week before we left, the website showed a 60% reduction in 1st class reserved seats on that train so we booked another set of tickets and turned in the more expensive ones in the Munich train station. More shopping money. The train took about 7 ½ hours to get to Budapest and was very comfortable. The car was about 2/3rds full from Munich to Vienna and there were only four people in the car from Vienna to Budapest. We stayed in the K+K Hotel Opera in Budapest. Another good choice. Good hotel and centrally located. One bit of advice that I would give would be to check out the prices of taxis from the train station to the hotel before getting in. We met people who paid 5 times what we did because they didn't ask first. We took a taxi to the River Duchess on embarkation day and from that point, the crew took care of our every need. We selected a Category 1 cabin since it had the biggest windows and weren't disappointed. The cabin was spotless and well laid out. It was easy to store everything. Uniworld obviously used an experienced ship designer when they built the River Duchess. Our cabin attendant, Nicolette, was great, as were all the others. She would appear as soon as we left the room and did her magic. It didn't matter how long we were gone or what time of day; the room was always straightened up by the time we got back. The meals on the ship were unbelievable. While we weren't looking for gourmet meals, we got them. The chef and his team did an excellent job throughout the cruise. The meals were buffet for breakfast and lunch with an omelet station at breakfast. Food was always the right temperature and the serving lines were kept clean at all times. I read on other posts that some river cruises had problems with people hogging tables and not inviting others to dine with them. That was definitely not an issue on this ship. We got to meet a lot of new people at the meals. Dinner was particularly good. Most meals we had Martin as our waiter. He was, without a doubt, the best waiter we have ever had on any of our cruises. He mixed and matched meals for anyone who wanted, was lively and professional, and kept the free wine flowing. We couldn't have asked for a better dining experience. The bar/entertainment staff was equally good. By the second day, the bartenders knew what we would order and mixed good drinks. They were quick to respond and always friendly. The on board musician, Zoltan, kept the room entertained into the early hours of the morning. We would try to stump him with song requests but he always seemed to come up with the song. The ships nautical staff and pursers' staff were equally professional. We would wake up early just to watch the sailors dock the ship. They obviously liked their jobs and enjoyed entertaining the passengers. As a final comment about the ship, it was well laid out, spotlessly clean, and professionally run by an outstanding group of people who were dedicated to making the trip enjoyable for all the passengers. From the captain down, all should be commended. Tony was our cruise director and did an outstanding job. Everything ran according to clockwork - no glitches at all. Buses and guides were always present on time and at the right location. All did a great job. I am sure because Tony made sure that they knew what the standards were. He ever arranged an extra free tour one night. Our first port of call was Budapest. The Christmas Market in Budapest was predominately hand crafted goods sold by the artists who made them. The weather was good, with a little rain once or twice. We docked across the river from the market but it was an easy 15 minute walk. Uniworld also arranged for a free ferry for people who didn't want to walk. Highlights of the market were the sausages and a type of cake we had never seen before. It is wrapped around a wooden roller then baked over a charcoal fire, dipped in sugar, nuts, or something equally as good, and sold for about 3 Euros. Totally addictive. The city tour took us to all the highlights by bus. Easy walking when we got to the sites. Next stop was Bratislava. It was a very interesting town and we will probably go back. The Christmas Market was newer that the others but it had some of the best food. We really liked the walking tour and could have prowled the streets of the town for hours more. The local tour guide there was very good. After Bratislava it was on to Vienna. We had been there before so we skipped the optional Schonbrunn Palace tour. Uniworld had a great new option. Instead of the normal city tour, people who had been to Vienna before could take a different tour which hit a few of the Christmas Markets (Tour was free). The tour guide was great and even bought all of us Gluwein. We took a horse drawn carriage ride around the town and had a great time. We returned to the ship for dinner then the Concert Tour. Uniworld had great seats reserved for the concert - right up front and near the wine stand!!!! All in all Vienna was a great stop. We got up early the next morning to see the Wachau Valley enroute to Melk. The weather was pretty good for this time of year but a little bit foggy. We will take the cruise again in the spring. There were a lot of passengers on deck taking pictures and drinking coffee so it was an enjoyable morning. The Melk Abbey was an interesting stop. After leaving the abbey, a few of us walked down to the little town and found a small cafe for beer and apple strudel. The next day was Linz and Salzburg. We didn't have any time in Linz in the morning since we had to take a bus to Salzburg. (More about that later) Salzburg was great. Super tourist area. Tour guide was really funny. It appears few tour guides from Salzburg like the movie, "The Sound of Music", but they go out of their way to show where the film was made. Mozart is the big attraction from his house to the candies. Took another carriage ride and had a great time. Uniworld's tour include a lunch at the fortress but they offered a cash rebate for people who stayed in the town and ate their. I have never heard of a tour company doing that before. It is another example of how good Uniworld is! Another example is that Tony arranged for the Linz "Night Watchman" to take people on a free walking tour of Linz during the evening. Another plus for Tony. Passau, Deggendorf, and Regensburg were great stops. We had good local tour guides in each of the locations and had plenty of time on our own. Sunday is a tough day to plan for tourists during this time of year. Everything is closed, but Uniworld brought us to a small mountain town where we had refreshments in a local pub, carriage rides through the forest and a trip to a glass factory. All in all these were three great days. Disembarkation was particularly easy. No "put out your bags the night before leaving" like on an ocean cruise. Tony and the staff made arrangements for everyone to get to the Munich Airport, Prague, or the train station at whatever time they needed to leave. This is a rather long review and could have been pages longer. Bottom line is that Uniworld is a top notch company that runs a great ship and hires outstanding personnel. We are sold on Uniworld cruises and will book with them again. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2008
We were very apprehensive as we flew from Buffalo to Washington DC then to Frankfurt Germany and finally to Basel, Switzerland to board The River Symphony from Grand Circle Travel. However, all our tension eased as they promptly delivered ... Read More
We were very apprehensive as we flew from Buffalo to Washington DC then to Frankfurt Germany and finally to Basel, Switzerland to board The River Symphony from Grand Circle Travel. However, all our tension eased as they promptly delivered our luggage to the room that would be our home for the next week. We loved floating north on the Rhine viewing the countryside and towns from our room or on the deck (although chilly. Our directors were top-notch, the food was first class (every meal and what choices, our cabin was spotless....My husband was especially impressed that we had the choice of joining the tours offered or just staying on board or walking to town on his own if his arthritis was bothering him. All in all, we can not say enough about this wonderful trip and all the ports--Kayersburg, Riquewihr, Baden-Baden, Strasbourg, Speyer, Heidelberg, Cologne, Dusseldorf, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Brussels, Brugge....all with their wonderful Christmas markets. I know I forgot some but we have many very fond memories of this trip! (We purchased the post-extension to the trip and traveled by bus from Ansterdam to Brussels and train to Brugge) We are now looking at the Danube! Hopefully soon. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: July 2006
The Uniworld sailing "European Serenade" is a 13-day cruise that alternates Vienna, Austria to Amsterdam, Holland with the reverse itinerary. We chose the Vienna to Amsterdam itinerary and enjoyed it greatly. We were able to ... Read More
The Uniworld sailing "European Serenade" is a 13-day cruise that alternates Vienna, Austria to Amsterdam, Holland with the reverse itinerary. We chose the Vienna to Amsterdam itinerary and enjoyed it greatly. We were able to purchase our trip during one of Uniworld's buy-one-get-one-free cruise fares and discounted airfare specials. Upon arrival to Vienna Austria, we went through customs and immigration, and collected our luggage. In baggage claim a representative from Uniworld was waiting for us and took us immediately to our bus that transported us to the pier where we boarded the River Duchess where a lunch buffet had been set out. Check in took a little bit of time as several passengers had arrived at one time, and there were only two crew completing check-in procedures, but we were served wine and were able to have light lunch while awaiting check in and for our cabins to be prepared. Cabins: The were adequately sized with a typical cruise-ship sized bathroom. All cabins have a view of the river, and we were in a category 5 stateroom, the lowest of the categories. Our view of the river was very close to the waterline, but we enjoyed hearing the water hitting the hull at night. In the literature that we received from Uniworld prior to leaving, we were instructed to pack lightly as there isn't much storage space for luggage. This is true, and there is a laundry room on the ship that was convenient to use. I had brought some laundry soap from home in one of my little travel bottles, and found this to be convenient as well. Food: Breakfast and lunch both consisted of a buffet and dinner had a menu service with a few choices. The food was very good and well-prepared. I never had a meal that I found to be inedible or bad. Food is prepared in the typical European fashion, so desserts are not as sweet as our American palate is accustomed to eating. The soups were excellent, as were the warm breads at each meal. We were able to try some interesting things that we had never eaten before, and I would recommend trying all the soups available, even the sauerkraut soup. The house wine is also fine to drink with meals. Of course, part of the fun of travelling to a new country is to try local delicacies in each port of call, which my husband and I did each time we got off the ship. I had no idea there were so many ways to make wurst and sauerkraut, and discovered how yummy real gelato is. Crew: The crew on the ship was excellent. They were all very friendly and personable and eager to help us with any questions or concerns. The cruise director was very knowledgeable about the areas that we were visiting and I especially enjoyed cruising the romantic Rhine seeing all the castles and hearing the history of the area. The captain and second captain were personable as well and interacted with the passengers on a daily basis. Shipboard life: On several evenings of the cruise, local entertainers would board the ship and provide the evening's entertainment. We heard a polka band, watched a glass blower, and heard a group with medieval musical instruments. On other evenings, the cruise director gave a presentation on the history of the areas we were visiting, and there was dance music for the tiny dance floor in the lounge. Excursions: The optional tour in Vienna of a ballet and seeing the Schonbrunn Palace were well worth the extra money. We were given directions on how to use the subway system and were able to do a little exploring on our own, and went to the Hofburg Palace and Mozarthaus. St Stephen's cathedral on the included tour was magnificent. At each stop during the trip, we were able to go on a tour that was included in the cruise fare. These were all led by English speaking local tour guides and the tours included many of the highlights of the towns that we were in. There was usually time for exploring on our own, which we greatly enjoyed. My husband and I took several weeks before we went on our trip to learn German so we could converse with the local inhabitants, which we found greatly enhanced our interactions. We especially enjoyed the medieval town of Rothenburg. We happened to be in Wurzburg during a music festival and were able to hear several choirs practicing in the cathedral, which was amazing. We also purchased a cuckoo clock in Regensburg, which was shipped to us a few weeks after we arrived back home. We extended our stay in Amsterdam with the optional cruise extension, and are glad that we did. The Uniworld guide was very knowledgeable of the area and took us around the city, introducing us to interesting foods and showing us the historical areas and the Red Light district. We had a tour one day of the windmills, a wooden shoe factory, and farm where Gouda cheese is produced. Amsterdam was chilly and rainy, even in July, so be prepared for this with a rain jacket and umbrella. The Ann Frank house is a do-not-miss, and the Rijksmuseum had a lot of very interesting works of art. Recommendations for anyone considering this trip: Pack lightly. You can wash laundry in the evening as the ship is sailing down the river. Buy a Frommer's Guide to the area. This gives you an overview of the town and the history of what you're going to see. Learn the language. The Pimsleur Method is excellent for learning conversational German (or French or whatever language you need to learn) for travelling. We learned basic greetings, how to ask for directions, how to ask for the bathroom, how to order food and drinks, and to say that we speak/understand a little of the language. As soon as someone realized that we were truly trying, they would typically switch to English, or speak slowly to help us understand what we were trying to find out. Who would enjoy this trip: Anyone who ever fantasized about being a princess living in a castle. The castles along the Rhine are the things that fairy tales are made of. Also anyone who enjoys history, seeing Roman ruins, and medieval towns. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: May 2000
Holland at Tulip Time Uniworld Cruise aboard the River Empress May 1- 8, 2005 After taking many traditional cruises, decided to explore Holland about a river cruise ship, the Uniworld River Empress. Although quite different than typical ... Read More
Holland at Tulip Time Uniworld Cruise aboard the River Empress May 1- 8, 2005 After taking many traditional cruises, decided to explore Holland about a river cruise ship, the Uniworld River Empress. Although quite different than typical cruise ships, it was nonetheless a terrific experience and a great vacation. Approaching the ship in Amsterdam, the first thing that occurred to me is that there were "no people" waiting to board!! We walked right up the short gang plank into the lobby where the Uniworld crew welcomed us with warm smiles and keys to our cabin. Check in was quick and easy and we were in our cabin within only a couple of minutes. The ship holds 138 passengers, and has 5 passenger decks. Deck 5 is the "Sun Deck" which is mostly an open air viewing deck with chairs and lounges. There is also a glass covered sitting area so that even in inclement weather you can have a panoramic view. This is where the "bridge" is located as well, and towards the very front are tables and chairs. We often brought drinks to this part of the deck and watched the countryside slowly pass us as we relaxed. Deck Four is where the beautiful dining room is location (more on food later!). Also, all of the ship's suites (4 of them) and top-graded cabins with floor to ceiling windows are on this deck. Towards the front is the bar/lounge which is the meeting place for port talks, captain's welcome aboard party, etc. Deck Three is cabins, and Deck Two is cabins, along with an area (indoor patio) for 24 hour coffee and tea, a small boutique shop, the gym/sauna and the hairdressers. Deck One is cabins, along with the small launderette (2 washers, 2 dryers which are free—soap is available for $2.50 for 2 loads). From top to bottom, the ship sparkles. Although much smaller and cozier than a cruise ship, they have all the bases covered with great cabins, a spacious and bright dining room and the services mentioned above. The Itinerary: Holland is really beautiful at tulip time. The trip begins in Amsterdam, sails north to Hoorn and Volendam, then heads back south to Rotterdam, Delft, Arnhem, and Schoonoven. I won't go over each and every detail of the ports (Uniworld's brochure does a terrific job of that!), but instead will provide some of our favorite activities on the trip. Amsterdam: We were lucky that the cruise spent a night in Amsterdam at the beginning of the trip, and 2 nights at the end. There is a lot to see and do, so don't worry that there is too much time there. We boarded the ship about 2:00 p.m. on Sunday and spent an hour on board getting unpacked and touring the decks. Went to visit the Anne Frank House (well worth the 15 minute wait to get inside) and walked around central Amsterdam. We had tried to go to the Anne Frank House earlier in the day, but the lines were too long. At 5:00, they had diminished quite a bit and I had heard that the later you go, the shorter the wait. The next morning, Uniworld took us to the world's largest flower auction just outside of Amsterdam. It is called the Aalsmeer Flower Auction and it is similar in many ways to the New York Stock Exchange, except that in place of stocks, the product is flowers. This place is HUGE and you walk ABOVE all of the action and look down at flowers, the actual auctions (where the prices are set for flowers WORLDWIDE) and the logistics of getting the flowers in and out of the auction center. We returned to the ship midday and as we were eating lunch we sailed up to Hoorn. Zaanse Schans is an outdoor windmill museum and they also give demonstrations on how to make wooden shoes. Great photo opportunities here, and also on the bus ride through the multi-colored fields of tulips that extend as far as your eyes can see! In Delft we toured the Delft pottery factory and then spent time downtown. Many old and interesting churches, and a huge plaza with nice outdoor cafes. The Dining Room: Open seating at all meals. Breakfast and lunch are buffet style. However, at breakfast, you can order an omelet of your choice from the buffet and at lunch, you are offered soup and and desert from your waiter. Dinner includes a starter (every night is different, and they are really creative!), soup, a main selection (either meat, fish or vegetarian), a nice desert choice and cheese and fruit from the buffet. The food was all outstanding and there is something for everyone. If you cannot find something, they will make something for you e.g. steak. The food overall was high quality, tasty and delicious. The cabins: At 154 square feet, not overly spacious but certainly adequate. The cabin layout was very nice and they managed to fit in bedside tables, a sitting chair and table, and a bathroom with nice shower (that consistently had great temperature control and water pressure). Very clean and new, and the cabin service is excellent. Ten reasons to choose a river cruise over a traditional cruise: To begin, I believe there is a market for both types of cruises. However, here are 10 reasons why I would travel on a river cruise again with Uniworld: 1. The crew. They can make or break a cruise, and hands down this crew (of only 36) did an outstanding job in every way. We had great service from the cruise manager, the officers, the front desk personnel, the cabin attendants and the dining room staff. 2. The ship. Although much smaller than traditional ships, the River Empress had a great deck plan and above all, was sparkling clean. Everywhere. 3. The food. I was never disappointed with any of the meals. There was a lot of variety, and portions were the right size (although you could order seconds if you wanted). 4. The destinations. Although Amsterdam is a large city with an adequate port, most of the other destinations we went to were too small for traditional ships. This trip gave us an opportunity to experience, and explore, ports that we otherwise would never go to see on a cruise. 5. The tours. Every one is included with your cruise fare. Just show up when they tell you to, and a first class tour bus is waiting for you just a few feet from your ship. Not only did they leave and return on time, every one had a knowledgeable and friendly tour guide, along with an experienced driver. Do not underestimate the value of having all your tours covered in your cruise fare, particularly when the conversion rates for dollars to euros are so poor! 6. Easy on, easy off! These river ships are more like hotels when it comes to arriving and departing guests! Whenever the ship is in port, it is easy to just walk off and on without great fanfare...it reminded me of going to and from a hotel. Quick and easy, in and out! 7. Other passengers. With such a small group, it is easy to meet others and we found that over the week we made many new friends. 8. Relaxation. There is something remarkably soothing about sitting on the top deck and watching the nearby land go by. 9. The other itineraries. Uniworld has many ships sailing throughout Europe and other parts of the world. Now that I've had my first experience with them, I'll definitely be back to another river cruise. 10. The small things. Umbrellas in the cabin should it be raining out. Juice, coffee and pastries at 6:00 a.m. for us early risers. A small vase of fresh flowers in every cabin after the cruise begins. Free washers and dryers. Welcoming smiles from the crew in the lobby every time you come back on board. What a wonderful week we had seeing Holland on the River Empress. I'd do this trip again if there weren't so many other places I want to see first! Read Less

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